Did y’all know that the worldwide jogging phenomenon began right here in Auckland, New Zealand?
In 1962, renowned Kiwi coach Arthur Lydiard and eventual Auckland mayor Colin Kay founded the first jogging club in the world. The Auckland Joggers Club was originally intended for unhealthy businessmen who wanted to shape up, but quickly reached a much broader demographic within New Zealand and far beyond.
Later that year, Bill Bowerman, famed U.S. distance coach, brought some athletes to meet Lydiard and train in Auckland, and was invited on a group run at One Tree Hill (otherwise known as Cornwall Park and my standard spot for long runs in Auckland). Bowerman was so impressed with the notion of the recreational running group that he brought it back home to Oregon. The running boom followed suit, though female participation and inclusion lagged behind by a decade or so.
This past Sunday, I experienced an extension of the original Auckland Joggers Club when I raced the Round the Bays 8.4k, which has become one of the world’s largest fun runs since the club started it in 1972. An estimated 70,000 runners and walkers participated this year, also making it New Zealand’s largest mass participation sporting event.
It’s been quite a few years (probably a decade!) since I toed the line for a Jingle Bell Run, Turkey Trot, or summer races at White Rock with my family, so Round the Bays was a nice and pressure-less reintroduction back to road racing. I cherish the exposure, intensity and precision of the track, but it’s nice to take to the roads too, and tackle a whole different style of racing along with thousands of strangers. As I have my long-term sights on the marathon, even short, fun road races like this are good practice for some bigger ones down the road.
The weather was spectacular– cloudless and hot– and the sidewalks and outdoor cafes were speckled with supporters. The course was really neat too, winding along the oceanfront through a few of Auckland’s main bays.
Hayden, my host for the past two weeks who unfortunately has a nagging achilles at the moment, helped me out in the last couple miles from his bike and snapped some cool shots of the race. I was also pumped to spot Charlotte, his sweet wife, afterwards and am so proud of all the progress she’s making with her own running.
After navigating the chaos of the finish area, runners and supporters made a morning of the post-race festivities, mingling around the water and refueling at the many barbecue pits nearby. I love how running can be so serious and focused at one minute, yet social and jovial the next.
The day after the race, I got an awesome, unexpected email from a fellow Watson Fellow (1999-2000) who also traveled to NZ during his fellowship year and who recently moved to Auckland with his wife. He read the race report that briefly mentioned my Watson Fellowship, realized that we ran a bit of the race together, and popped me an invitation to hang out or have a meal. I love being a part of the Watson community and I cannot wait to hear all about his own journey and where it has taken him since.
Now that I’ve brushed a few cobwebs off of my racing self, I’m really looking forward to some more races coming up: the New Zealand National Track and Field Championships next weekend and a possible road mile the week after that. With the solid base I’ve built over these last 8 months (wow– how can that be?!), it’s time to sharpen up a little bit and bring my competitive instinct out to play!